Latin America & Caribbean

British-born ex-beauty queen aspires high in Bolivia

Jessica Anne Jordan Burton shakes the hand of an old lady while campaigning in Bolivia
Image caption Ms Jordan believes she is winning over those who thought she had no substance

"My mother saw that I was too much into sports, and I wasn't much of a girly girl, so she put me into some modelling classes - and I liked it!"

Jessica Anne Jordan Burton's background gave no indications that she would end up in politics.

Born in the Somerset town of Bath in England, the 26-year-old moved to Bolivia as a young girl with her mother after her parents divorced.

She was crowned Miss Bolivia in 2006. Four years later she is now responsible for development in Beni, north- east Bolivia.

It is an area which suffers serious poverty, caused in part by a lack of basic services and infrastructure. The cocaine trade dominates the local economy.

Ms Jordan says she spends her day-to-day life travelling the area, meeting people in ministries and making recommendations to the central government over how and where to invest money - important decisions which determine the allocation of a $700m development pot.

Her rapid journey into frontline politics began when she was preparing to enter Miss Universe and met Bolivian President, Evo Morales.

"I talked to him and I said I admired him for what he was achieving," she recalled.

"He was a man that suffered the real poverty in our country and now he is the president."

The discussion clearly left a lasting impression. Ms Jordan did not win the competition - Miss Japan took the prize - but she did win the backing of Mr Morales, who soon encouraged her to stand against Beni's elected governor, Ernesto Suarez.

"They knew it was going to be hard. I lost by 2,900 votes," says Ms Jordan.

"It was very, very close - and after the elections, after I lost, the president invited me to be director of development in my region.

"Obviously I accepted because I had 40% of votes."

Fierce opponents

It was a controversial appointment. The director of development position did not exist prior to Ms Jordan losing the election, and critics suggested that the role acted in competition with the elected governor, who is a member of the opposition.

Image caption Ms Jordan met Bolivian President Evo Morales as she prepared to compete in Miss Universe

"Sometimes there is discrimination only because you're young and you're a woman," Ms Jordan said.

"The president is a huge example of this. I think people that have love for their country can do much more than people that are only there looking for their own ambition."

Much was made of her distinctively un-political background, and there has been criticism that her good looks and fame have disguised a serious lack of experience in politics.

"I think that the physical thing… it did affect me at the beginning. It doesn't anymore because I already proved that I can do it and that I am doing it, so now it's different.

"Tell me where is the experience of the people that's been working in Beni for so long, for 10 years, and we don't have the basic services, we don't have connections.

"The economy here is poor - and we have so many natural resources that we could use to grow."

Her background has no doubt provoked fierce opposition in Bolivia's political scene, but these arguably pale in comparison to the risks she says she faces as she attempts to tackle Beni's drugs trade.

"I have big enemies," she says.

"My life is [at] risk, of course, but I think more in risk is my own region than my own life. I think that we have to work the best we can to leave something behind because we're not going to take anything with us. It doesn't really get into my mind."

However, it is a worry that concerns her family.

"My grandmother lives in England, and when she saw the news she said 'please take care'. She confessed to me that she was happy I didn't win [the election]."

Ms Jordan's grandmother may not be so happy in two and half years as her granddaughter plans to again stand against Mr Suárez as Beni goes to the polls again.

"I'm counting the actual governor's days because I'm working really hard," she says.

If Ms Jordan does succeed in her quest for elected office, she may face a fresh wave of criticism, particularly if she, and Mr Morales, opt not to appoint a replacement for her as director of development.